2. Ward Kimball

The possibilities of animation are endless and infinite.  Its potential is limited only by the imagination of the person animating the scene and their ability to clearly communicate their thoughts and feelings using art. However many people are rather conservative and straight with their handling in animation or they go far out with no intent, purpose, or the skills needed to pull it off.  In other words the stuff done is oftentimes realistic and restrained to the point of grotesqueness or boredom or on the flip side isn’t believable because of the lack of intellect, understanding, sincerity, or artistry.  Animation in its purest form is expressive and believable but also caricatured and exaggerated to make the statement the animator is making strong and clear. When this “spark” happens it’s hard to find anything that transcends the magic of it. One of the men who really was a wizard at turning on this spark was Ward Kimball, number two in our countdown and the honoree of today’s post.

Of the great animators that have walked through the halls of the Disney studio none have had the best combination of imagination, creativity, satirical sensibilities, uniqueness, a desire to expand the medium, and an eccentric personality than Ward Kimball. He stood out because of how he used his wacky sensibilities, solid draftsmanship, and genius mind as well as his flair for caricature, excellent observational skills, and understanding of the principles of animation to do animation that is very original and in a unique way very sincere. There is complete integrity in Ward’s animation and a great amount of intelligence, separating him from the conventional comic animator who is just about the screwball qualities and tongue-and-cheek treatment.  He’s very important because he proved that an animator could do something that is completely contradictory to what the standard of Disney animation points to but still retains sincerity and is equal in quality.   “If I could have been any of the great animators at Disney I’d definitely be Ward,” stated honoree Duncan Marjoribanks.  “His comic sensibilities don’t match up mine at all but I still love and admire his work,” explains young talent Matt Williames.  “Along with Fred Moore he’s probably the one of the Disney guys who’s work has had the biggest impact on me,” said honoree Eric Goldberg. “When Chuck Jones saw my animation of the Genie in the Friend Like Me sequence for Aladdin when he visited the Disney Studio, he said ‘That’s a bit like Ward’s animation in the Three Caballeros.’ I like that compliment.” “He was quite the character,” remembers honoree Andreas Deja.  “Ward Kimball’s work has an expert blending of the broad and the precise,” praises animation historian Michael Barrier.  Not only was Kimball an exceptionally good animator but he was also perhaps the most innovative and imaginative of the honorees. While many of the others were more conservative in what they did and found doing similar assignments a never-ending rewarding enjoyment Ward always wanted to do something that was a completely new challenge and strived for innovation as well as expansion of the art form.  He did things virtually no other Disney animator would ever dare to do and his unique taste was a great addition to the studio. “My final two cents worth of advice is to develop an all-consuming curiosity for things both exotic and living,” explained Ward. “Read, observe, analyze, and above all be flexible. Keep an open mind. The world is ever changing fast. Don’t get caught in the corner of the ring. Keep an open mind and have fun. Take it from me, it’s worth it!” Among his greatest accomplishments as a character animator include Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio, Bacchus in Fantasia, the Reluctant Dragon, the Crows in Dumbo, the title sequence of the Three Caballeros, Pecos Bill in Melody Time, the mice and Lucifer in Cinderella, and several characters (Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum, the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and the Cheshire Cat) in Alice and Wonderland.  After leaving feature animation Kimball had a great career directing innovative shorts and projects at Disney most notable his music shorts series (Melody; Toot, Whistle, Pluck, and Boom) and his space television series. “Ward Kimball is one man who works for me that I’m willing to call a genius,” famously stated Walt Disney.

Ward Kimball was born on March 4, 1914 in Minneapolis Minnesota.  Growing up he lived in an environment of instability and uncertainty.  For one thing his father was a businessman who was unsuccessful at everything he did and the family constantly had to move around the country. Also while Ward’s father was an intellectual, he recalled “My mother was just plain dumb.”  They were a liberal family just as his would be when he grew up but the economic and constant changes made it sometimes a bitter situation.  When he was seven Kimball went to live with his grandmother for a year because of the financial problems the family was facing. It was actually here where Kimball first became encouraged to do art and was the place where he was first introduced to drawing. “During my stay with my grandmother I developed an avid fascination with newspapers, especially the multicolored comic pages of the Minneapolis Journal,” he recalled decades later. “This early love affair with comic strips inspired me to ‘publish’ my own edition of the Sunday paper.” Growing up Ward was very interested and fascinated by all times of performance and entertainment, especially vaudeville.  This stuck to him forever and if you study his work you’ll notice that a lot of the performance qualities, movements, and timing hold a candle to this form of performing.   Kimball studied all types of performing arts from music to ballet.  Around the age of 10 years old the family continued to move around but they did so more in the western side of the country particularly in the state of California. While this lifestyle was very hard on Ward he coped with this by creating a very extroverted, outspoken personality to make friends fast and easily.  Fortunately he also had art to give him some sense of stability.  This really came out when his school teacher gave a contest where the person with the best drawing got a candy bar.  He was determined to get the prize to the point he worked as hard as he could until he got it.  However this creative energy appealed to Kimball and he would continuously work religiously on his cartoons.  His commitment was rewarded when he was offered a scholarship by the Santa Barbara School of Arts after high school, which he accepted. “Father banned me from the house for my adolescenttemerity but forgiveness came when I explained that applied design, drawing, and painting was more important than pennants, pompoms, and fraternities,” remembered Ward.  Here he worked towards finding a career as a commercial artist and flourished with his studies although he approached them in an at best semi-whimsical way.  However in 1933 the young man saw Disney’s short Father Noah’s Ark at a theater and was completely struck.  He couldn’t believe what he was seeing and was most impressed by it.  Soon after came the Three Little Pigs which appealed to Kimball even more.  While at first his parents were reluctant to drive him down to Los Angeles to try out at the Disney Studio, eventually his mother decided to take him down.  Ward did so and his portfolio was soon accepted. They were impressed by his ability to caricature what he observed and make it feel believable. The animator was hired on April 2, 1934.

At first Ward Kimball worked as an inbetweener in a bullpen, which was a less-than-ideal experience.  Not only did he not enjoy doing such crappy work but he also had a terrible relationship with George Drake, the head of the department. The two men mutually hated each other and annoyed each other to no end.  Drake constantly tried to get Ward fired and the young man was only saved when Ham Luske picked him up as his assistant.  The mentor had a solid reputation for being excellent at explaining procedures and the principles of animation as well as serving as a good leader for the young animators.  “Ham gave me a lot of responsibility and that’s the way you learn,” recalled Kimball. “He’d give me little secondary things to animate in his scenes. I would do the drapery follow through. This is the way I learned the rudiments. He told me you couldn’t caricature until you can analyze, draw, and shot the real object, the real character.” Among the shorts he first work on as Ham’s assistant include Orphan’s Benefit, the Goddess of Spring, and the Tortoise and the Hare.   Around this time Ward also developed a reputation at the studio for making caricatures and playing practical jokes. His social life include hanging around in a cliché that included Walt Kelly and the great Fred Moore.  Kimball was really embracive of all the energy and attitude at the studio at the time.  “There was more to the cartoon film business than I ever could have dreamed of,” he enthusiastically explained.  “You had to first be an artist, a draftsman, an actor, and you had to use mathematics to make it all work. And most of all, you had to have patience.” Ward soon became a junior animator and his first short as a full-fledged animator was Elmer Elephant, a Silly Symphony released in 1936.  However his real breakout performance was on a cello-playing grasshopper in Woodland Café (1936.) the super-fast timing, fluid but greatly exaggerated and caricatured movement, and the precisely accurate rhythm of the scene was soon to impress many people. “I was really impressed by it,” remembers Ken Peterson, best known for being the head of the animation department for many years in the 40s and 50s.  At the same time Ward married the beautiful Betty Lawyer, who was an ink-and-paint girl at the studio.  While the girls and boys were typically separate at the studio, the long hours of overtime and night shifts on Snow White had brought them together and during that time there were a lot of marriages among studio artists.  On the film Ward primarily worked on two sequences with the dwarfs: one where they were going to eat soup and another where they were making a bed for Snow White.  He worked super hard on the scenes and completed them. However it was not long before both scenes were decided to be irrelevant in advancing the plot and both were cut entirely on the spot.  This left virtually none of Kimball’s animation with the film (the exceptions being scenes with the vultures and the shot where the dwarfs put up their noses on Snow White’s bed.  “I was very discouraged because I had worked so hard,” reflected the animator.

Furious, Ward Kimball took the deletion of his scenes personally and thought that it meant they didn’t like his animation.  He was ready to quit but when we went to tell Walt he received a surprise. The maestro persuaded Ward to stay and told him that he was intending on him doing a cricket character in the upcoming film Pinocchio.  The animator was immediately back on the Disney train and left the office feeling like it was the best place in the world.   Originally a minor character the cricket evolved into the major character known and loved as Jiminy Cricket.  It was ultimately Kimball’s design of the character that was used and he was the directing animator on the character.  “Pinocchio was the first picture where I operated as an animation supervisor,” the animator told Steve Hulett. “Walt began to take the older, or more talented, or whatever you want to call them animators and make what he called animation supervisors. Maybe two or three of us would go on a picture early — try to take the story sketches and develop a character, draw a character that would work in animation. Lot of times, a story sketch wouldn’t work. The cricket had been drawn like a little black grasshopper, and the problem there was getting a character that Walt would accept. Now, that was a tough job because like I tell everybody, the cricket looked like a cockroach. So each time I’d go up there, Walt would kind of frown and say “He’s not cute enough,” or something. So by a process of elimination, I dropped all the cockroach stuff so what we had was a little man, with a cut-away coat, which I suppose you could call wings, the way they come to a point in back, but there they stop. There’s a collar, top hat, and umbrella, and his face is an egg with cheeks. No ears, two lines on top, reminiscent of the feelers, and his nose. You couldn’t put on anything that looked like nostrils or holes or things that looked ugly. Before that, we worked for six months on the sequence, and I don’t think the cricket was in it, and Walt realized it wasn’t working. And he threw it all out and started over … I tend to forget the problems we had, and that’s the tendency of everybody, but Pinocchio was no soft touch. In fact, I thought it was harder for everybody than Snow White. We finished Snow White and we said, “Ha. We know how to do features!” And everybody went into Pinocchio with this great load of confidence. Boy, six months later we found out, and Walt found that, that what you learn in one picture doesn’t necessarily work on the next picture. Then Walt brought in the cricket, added that little personality. The story needed something to bounce Pinocchio’s problems off of. How do you bring a marionette to life? How does he know the facts of life unless he has some tutor? … See, the cricket has educated Pinocchio and you get a kick out of Pinocchio’s mistakes and his naïveté, his unworldly approach…” “If the Cricket’s mouth is drawn too close to the nose it makes him look too cute,” explained Ward. “Mouth works as a hinge. Don’t draw a tricky Mickey Mouse mouth, which seems to be working on the side. In drawing the Cricket try to figure him like Mickey. Divide him into thirds, then make a teardrop in normal relaxed poses. Try to make him funny. In other words be sincere, and realistic in the drawing always. You must make him real as much as possible because he is to begin with an abstract design of something that is small and cute.” “I had a lot of problems with the Cricket,” he described to Charles Solomon. “Normally an artist caricatures an animal by learning to draw it correctly- then the caricature becomes a simple problem of degree. But with an insect you’re in trouble because insects are very ugly and unappetizing.  A cricket looks like a cross between a cockroach and a grasshopper. For the first designs, I started with a real cricket with toothed legs and antennae but Walt didn’t like it.  I did twelve or fourteen versions and gradually cut off all the appendages. I ended up with a little man, really, wearing spats and a tail coat that suggested folded wings; he likes like Mr. Pickwick but with no ears, no nose, and no hair. The audience accepts him as a cricket because the other characters say he is.” While Ward wasn’t too keen to the results of the Cricket’s design, it is truly among if not soley his best work and is the one that best challenges the urban legend that he was incapable of true sincere, personality animation.  Kimball’s timing is noticeably slower in this character than it is in his typical work and the solidity of drawing as well as expert use of animation principles and performance skills make this one truly believable and sincere performance.  My personal favorite thing about his animation of the cricket is the honesty behind it and the great blending of caricature, sincerity, and precision that’s done with him. He’s such a dynamic character and one that is entertaining as well as heartwarming.  He tells the story and we really connect with him. What’s better than all of that?

Up next for Ward Kimball came Fantasia, where he animated Bacchus in the Pastoral Symphony sequence.  While his animation on the character is pretty top notch (the design is very appealing and the way the timing shows the weight is pure brilliant), it was far from among his personal favorite assignments and wishes he had instead worked on the satirical Dance of the Hours. “Few things in life are perfect but the Dance of the Hours is perfect,” admits Ward.  The animator had more fun on the looser, more groundbreaking animation style of the Reluctant Dragon, where he animated almost all of the dragon himself.  “Some of the conservatives at the studio resented the fact that the dragon sounded pretty gay,” remembered Kimball with a laugh.  So I guess we can say the Reluctant Dragon very well might be the first homosexual cartoon character in the history of animation.  Anyway I highly suggest you freeze-frame Ward’s animation of the dragon and study it intensely.  This is cartoon acting at its best and has some of the most expressive, clear gesture poses ever to come across the silver screen.  Up next came Dumbo, a film that was a personal favorite of Kimball’s and one where he feels he did some of his best work.  “Walt went through the whole story in five minutes in the parking lot,” remembered the animator. “He said ‘I want you do the dance sequence where the crows teach Dumbo how to fly.’ And listening to him tell the story, I could tell that the picture was going to work.” Ward’s animation of the birds in the final film is without a doubt one of the greatest performances of all time.  Not only beautiful choreographed and has amazingly musical as well as precise timing but the crows also have a great emotional complexity and have a lot of the sincere qualities that the animator applied to the Cricket. Funny enough Kimball actually cast Cliff Edwards, the voice of the Cricket, as Jim Crow, the leader of the group.   “Cliff Edwards doing the voice of Jim Crow really made the whole sequence, because he was quite adept at doing kazoo solos on his old records, and he could vocally imitate other instruments,” he explained in an interview. “Many of the instrumental effects on the track were done by Edwards. Voice-wise, he really sounded more black than the blacks [from the Hall Johnson Choir] we had backing him up… The development and differentiation of the (crow) characters really began on the night that we started recording.  I decided that Jim Crow would be the big, dominating boss crow with the derby… By the time the voices were set, you have a pretty good idea how they would individually look, react and even function in the sequence.” The sequence was directed by Jack Kinney, known for his great satirical and broad comedy Goofy shorts, and storyboarded by the great Ralph Wright.  “Jack did his work; he took care of the loose ends,” Ward told Michael Barrier.  “He took care of making out the sheets. I liked him, because he’d say, “Do whatever you want here.”He’d just rip off a pile of sheets, and I’d say, “I’ll phone up the timing.” I did that all the time. Jack was flexible about that; he didn’t try to push his weight around. He was open, and he was good in that respect. He did exactly what he should have done with an animator. He set up the recording sessions, and we were invited to it. He talked over story points, and we made our suggestions, and we’d argue now and then. It was sort of a good relationship.” However as much as his working relationship with Jack worked out there were a few clashes with supervising director Ben Sharpesteen, who was pretty conservative in his decisions and taste. “I wanted to try something different, I wanted to make each crow a definite, separate character,” explained Kimball. “One example was the little crow with the big horn-rimmed glasses. When he rolled his eyes, the eyes went out beyond the head mass, they rolled around inside the rims of the big glasses. Ben objected to that, and we had a hell of a fight. I said, “Look, Ben, some people wear magnifying glasses; they distort things.” He couldn’t quite see it. This was how dense he was about caricature in graphics. I refused to change my animation. Finally, Walt saw the sequence and thought it was great. He was the final Supreme Court.” In a nutshell this worked very well and the musical number is very memorable as well as nothing short of geniusism in every use of the word.

While most of the people at the studio found the years of World War 2 unhappy ones Ward Kimball was an exception. He found the shorts as great opportunities to experiment with new ideas and fool around with his love of satire and caricature.  Kimball had a great time making these films and basically did his own thing. With Bill Tytla departing in unusual circumstances during February 1943 Ward had finally found his chance to be able to be called the best animator in the studio, a title he arguably carried for the rest of his time in feature animation.  One of the best examples of his attitude towards the time period in contrast to those of others is the short Education for Death. While Bill Tytla, Frank Thomas, and Milt Kahl unhappily struggled with very dark, dreadful, and ultra-realistic material that was most unsatisfying for them Kimball lived it up with his hilarious scenes of Hitler having a love duet with an obese Hermann Goering dressed in Brunhilde drag.  This is one of the few moments in the wartime shorts that is watchable much less entertaining. “It got tremendous laughs but they cut down on her expression because they were worried people would think she got the finger or something,” reflected Ward. Ironically it was director Gerry Geronimi who did the censorship, who Kimball absolutely despised and was actually quite vulgar in his studio behavior.  Around the same time the animator also animated some of Pedro in Saludos Amigos, which turned out to be one of the weakest assignments of his career.  The film, written as a very humorous segment, was turned into one beginning for sentimentality and the whole thing didn’t come together very well.  However the second film in the Latin American series, the Three Caballeros actually turned out to be an absolute highlight of Ward’s career. He animated the extremely entertaining and brilliantly choreographed Three Caballeros song sequence. The whole thing is not only timed out like nobody’s business and has great actions/gestures to support the lyrics clearly but it also is hilarious and very visually rich. “That’s the only animation I ever did that I’m uncritical of,” explains Ward. “I look at the damn song I did and I laugh and I grin as hard as the day I did it.”

In the package features of the second half of the 1940s Ward Kimball continued to flourish and serve as the frontrunner of the animation studio.  The round, cartoony but solid style of 40s cartoons worked very well with the animator and the look of these films was just phenomenal even though story wise most of them are substandard.  First came Make Mine Music where Kimball animated most of all the characters in the satirical but bittersweet the Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met (a short about a whale who can sing and fathoms of becoming an opera singer) as well as the cat, duck and the huntsmen in the Peter and the Wolf segment. Study the shot of the huntsmen walking and you’ll see a textbook example of balance, spacing, and weight in an action.  Then came Fun and Fancy Free where the animator reprised his role of Jiminy Cricket as well as animated Lumpjaw the villain black bear in the Bongo segment.  Probably his best animation from this time period however is in the third of the four package features, Melody Time.  In it Ward was the primary animator on the legendary Pecos Bill.  Personally Pecos Bill is one of my favorite parts of a Disney film and his animation in the segment was one of the things that first inspired me to seriously have the gumption of becoming an animator.  I love the cartoony style of the short and find its broad but precise and witty sensibilities a non-dangerous drug.  This is also a notable instance because it’s one of the few times that Kimball had a successful collaboration with his rival, Milt Kahl.  The two had very different opinions on animation and their personalities clashed to the point that they were studio nemeses.  Milt even bashed him frequently in interviews and said that his work as well as that of Frank, Ollie, and Marc was far superior to Ward’s. However in this segment the two styles go together perfectly and there is a lot of great animation (Kahl did almost all of Swing Foot Sue.) “They were both raised to a height that they never could have done alone,” explained Ken Peterson.  “Milt broadened out his caricature and held Kimball down a little bit.” Last came Ichabod and Mr. Toad where Kimball did Toad’s escape and some of Ichabod and his horse in the nighttime ride sequence.

Cinderella was Disney’s triumphant return to classic full-length storytelling and for many it was also a return to realism. While the package features had a ton of room for exploration, fun, and loose caricature the animation of the human characters in the film were all shot in live action and most animators were forced to use this reference as a tool.  Although Cinderella is without a doubt one of the strongest Disney films story wise and from a visual, art direction standpoint is absolutely beautiful a lot of the animation is very straight and occasionally feels too close to live action. However the animal characters were exempt from this restricted handling and the animators were free to make their own acting choices on them and be more imaginative and creative with their animation.  To no one’s surprise Ward Kimball did the lion’s share of these characters.  Largely storyboarded by the one and only Bill Peet the cat-mouse conflict of Cinderella is one of the film’s strongest virtues and serves as a great reflection of what the humans are doing. However unlike some films like Pocahontas the animal characters are well integrated into the film and help make the film richer than it could ever have been otherwise.  This film has a lot of Ward’s best work and his animation shows great understanding of character, staging, sharp timing, entertainment, appeal, performance, and use of animation principles to communicate a character.  One scene that’s particularly worth studying of his is the scene where Lucifer is looking through all the different cups trying to find Gus so he can eat him. The timing and use of details to communicate the big picture utilized by Kimball in this scene shows you just how much of a genius he was. “It’s as good as anything Chaplin had ever done,” stated honoree Andreas Deja. However it wasn’t unnoticed that Ward was having a good time on this film. “The other animators knew that Kimball was enjoying himself and resented it,” wrote Michael Barrier. “Ward always had a talent for protecting himself,” remembered Frank Thomas.  “He’d smell which way the wind was blowing and take advantage of it.”

Up next from Ward Kimball came Alice in Wonderland, another film that was difficult for most of the crew but not for the animator. He was given juicy assignments such as Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, the Mad Hatter and the March Hare, and the understated Cheshire Cat.  “The film turned into a vaudeville show,” remarked Ward on the film.  With the exception of the Cheshire Cat(which John Lounsbery did quite a lot of), he did pretty much all the footage on most of his characters and the consistency in them is a rare treat in that time period when characters were way too many times split up between way too many animators.  The enjoyment that Kimball had on the film really shows in his work and the result is some of the juiciest, most entertaining, and brilliantly comic characters to ever come out of the studio. My favorite thing about his work in Alice is the understanding of performance he uses and the skill in the acting.  He isn’t just goofing around; he’s really thinking about these characters and making a statement with a pencil.  It works because Ward took so much out of observing from life and used his imagination to caricature or expand that to make something that felt even more “real” and expressive than something that is real. With all of his characters in Alice they’re thoroughly conceived, believable, and the acting is the best of the best.  What sequence in Disney history is more entertaining than the Mad Tea Part scene? It’s sculptural drawing, exaggerated gestures and actions, integration of voice with character, understanding of emotions, use of technique, and draftsmanship is out of this world.  On the other hand the Cheshire Cat is an example of how Ward was capable of the less-is-more philosophy. “Here I learned a big lesson in that actions that are supposed to be violently crazy are sometimes not as mad as more subtle, underplayed treatments,” he explained. “My animation of the Cheshire Cat was my masterpiece of understatement. Up next came Peter Pan, where Kimball had a bit of a hard time finding a piece in.   He was by this point one of the very few animators in the studio who never went to Milt Kahl for drawing advice and therefore didn’t acknowledge his nemesis’s influence while doing his own thing. This made it difficult for him to have a place in films that were becoming more and more focused on pure sincerity and straight handling (although I argue Ward’s work is still very sincere.)  The animation was also becoming less imaginative and more straight (a development I’m personally not a huge fan of) making it harder for the man with the wild imagination to feel comfortable.  Kimball by this film was also rather bored with animation and wanted to find a new challenge. So on Pan he mainly focused on minor characters such as the Indian Chief and some of the Lost Boys.  The Indian Chief, although a small part, is quite a character because of the flexibility used in his face and the understatement used to make his essence more powerful.  After Peter Pan Ward did some brief minor work doing layouts for Sleeping Beauty before doing some designs and pencil tests for the Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp. However the designs didn’t really fit in with the picture and ultimately he was taken off the project. “He tried to do something new with his cat designs but the other animators said they didn’t fit into the picture,” explains Ward’s son John Kimball. “They were continuing with the warm, rounded look. He had more of an edge to the characters. He was really hurt.”

While struggling to find his niche in the current environment at feature animation Ward Kimball looked for other outlets of his creativity and his first attempts were directing and animating in two groundbreaking musical shorts, Melody and Toot, Whistle, Pluck, and Boom. Both were huge successes and were the first Disney films ever to use limited animation. “My contention was there were certain types of comedy staging that were best done with limited animation,” described Ward. “A lack of movement would put over the gag.” In 1954 the animator moved out of feature animation all together and moved upstairs to work on the space series for the Disney TV show. “I was so relieved to get away from animation,” stated Kimball in an interview. “I knew how to do it. I wanted to have some say about the content.” And that’s exactly what he found because in the Space series he embraced a creative freedom very few artists have ever had in the animation industry at all. “The Space Series was the creative highpoint of my career,” he reflected. However the good days couldn’t last forever and in 1961 while working on the live action Babes in Toyland a huge rift occurred between Ward and Walt, which almost got him fired.  He was spared but he was sentenced to doing Von Drakes for television, which he hated.  Although he constantly tried to experiment for the rest of his career more and more Kimball didn’t feel welcome in the creative environment at the studio and the management did more and more to try to control him.  This lead to him taking an extended vacation in 1972 and officially retiring on August 31, 1973.  However over the years the retired Ward and the studio grew closer again and he was always very encouraging to the young animators at the studio. Ward Kimball passed away on July 8, 2002 at the age of 88 in Los Angeles, CA.

Style wise Ward Kimball like I said before was a caricaturist and had a brilliant, endless imagination. He always tried to find the most entertaining way to do a scene and searched until he found the way that was the way he wanted.  However it’s important to remember that Ward isn’t your typical comic animator and really has much more depth than that.  There is an emotional complexity, integrity of feelings, and precision in his work that is rare for this kind of sensibilities and the combination of them really works for the best possible result.  You believe in Kimball’s characters in a way that you usually don’t in broad characters and they are able to carry a story in a way that typical comic fare couldn’t do. For example Jiminy Cricket and Jim Crow actually help carry the emotional weight of the story, something that animators of this breed aren’t known for doing.  It’s not the intellect, creativity, expert precision, or performance alone that makes Ward’s work special but the COMBINATION of all these things.  I personally am an absolute nut for his timing and it’s interesting to see how he does his timing just fast enough to make it funny but just slow enough to be accepted in a Disney film. It’s also important to remember he was an excellent draftsman and his observational/analytical skills were very advanced, making him able to do things in animation that are very unique but are still believable.  If you read an interview with Kimball you can tell he knew what he was doing and was always in complete control. He really thought through what he was doing as well as put in his personal voice and passion into his work.  The combination of all these things is exceptional and few people have ever been able to be as big of an animation genius as Ward.

Ward Kimball had a very unique influence on the art of Disney animation and the work of the studio. He was the first animator that was a front-runner at the studio but was going in a direction that was significantly different than the one the rest of the studio was going in. Usually there is a standard that everyone tries to go up to and everything is compared to them.  Ward was never the standard but he was always as good as the standard; he just was doing something completely different but still sincere and with great merit.  This really defined that an animator should try to do their own thing, find their own sensibilities, and have animation that is completely original as well as true to their personal voice. Before this pretty much everyone tried to imitate who were the top men at the time and didn’t do anything more. Now animators were being encouraged to really do something interesting with their characters and something that’s specific to that character. Also Kimball is important because of the way he valued innovation and encouraged people to really try different things.  He never repeated himself and once he felt he mastered something he always went on to break a new boundary rather than try to live up to his past best work.  Last Ward is influential because he proved that broad satirical animation can be sincere, meaningful, and precise.  This opened up a whole new door for possible Disney characters and really changed the way things were done.  Who can possibly imagine where animation would have been without Kimball?

Ward Kimball has been a great inspiration to me and has had a huge impact on me.   I love his sensibilities and find studying his animation something that’s completely irresistible.  Ward’s work opened my eyes to the endless possibilities that can be found in Disney animation and how you can really stretch what is sincere, sentimental animation.  There are well over a thousand ways you can do a scene and the work of people like Kimball really opened my eyes to this realization.  Animation isn’t something that’s narrow, easy to classify, or that stays the same: it changes all the time, is endless, and can do anything. There is always something better out there to be done and Ward really preached this.  His work also taught me the importance of understanding something before animating it, getting to know the real thing and have the draftsmanship to draw it before trying to caricature it, how animation principles can be used to communicate a scene, the importance of precise timing, the value of caricature, and the range a comic character has to cover.  He also was one of the first people whose work spoke to me in a strong way.  There’s nobody whose done work that’s like Ward’s and this sense of creativity as well as uniqueness has really inspired me to try to look for my own personal voice and sensibilities. I have so much to learn ahead of me and my understanding of animation is only a fraction of what it has to be but I really feel driven to find my voice and be able to sing. However as Kimball taught you really have to work hard to be able to get there and you must really learn to observe, take in inspiration, and express yourself as an artist first.  You have to struggle to get what Duncan Marjoribanks says is the lightning strike that makes everything come together and the feeling really work.  Last is I feel Ward has really influenced me to have an open mind about animation and really think about the future.  I realized there’s so much more to go in our understanding of animation and that even though we’ll never know all of it we’ve got to try our best to get there.  If something doesn’t progress and stays the same it dies. If someone stops learning they fall apart. Same is true to Disney animation. It has to keep progressing and you have to be willing to adapt to the changes that occur. Thank you Ward Kimball for your contributions to the art of Disney animation and for being a great inspiration to me as well as so many other people!

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4 Responses to “2. Ward Kimball”

  1. Evan English Says:

    I guess this leaves Bill Tytla as number one, right? Very interesting.

    Kimball is one of those who sort of got overlooked next to Thomas and Kahl. Nonetheless, that made him no less interesting.

  2. Bravo!

  3. ancientwaykevin Says:

    Thanks for the best biography I’ve seen of Ward Kimball! I was the lucky auction winner for his early Mad Magazine collection–it’s one of my most prized and inspiring possessions, and I always want to learn more about Ward.

  4. Excellent write up and presentation. I have learnt allot from reading your post and I enjoyed it just as much. Thanks for sharing what otherwise I would not have known about the great animator.

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